When I wrote the piece ‘No Play Makes Virat Kohli A Dull Boy?’
last week, it was just a call to action by the Indian cricket captain, prompted perhaps by the Puma funded Kantar survey on the sedentary life style of Indians.
In the days gone by, much has transpired on this front. The Sports Minister, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, himself an Olympics silver medalist and a former Colonel of the Indian army, started a #HumFitTohIndiaFit campaign on Twitter and posted a #FitnessChallenge to captain Virat Kohli, actor Hrithik Roshan and shuttler Saina Nehwal. Virat, already energized by his own ‘Come Out and Play’ clarion call responded by putting out a video of his own on social media showing himself performing an exercise for the lower abdomen calling it his ‘favourite core workout’. He concurrently handed out the #FitnessChallenge to his wife Anushka Sharma, former captain MS Dhoni and Prime Minister Modi. Interestingly, the Indian PM responded to Kohli saying, “Challenge accepted, Virat! I will be sharing my own #FitnessChallenge video soon. @imVkohli #HumFitTohIndiaFit”. That seemed to open up the flood gates for social media recognition for India’s fame-starved glitterati. All kinds of videos started to suddenly appear on Instagram, with challenges extended to other co-celebrities.
Hrithik Roshan was the first to court controversy. His video showed him riding a bicycle on a crowded Indian street. That he said was his fitness mantra. Trolls went to town criticising the actor for not wearing a helmet, and thereby setting a bad example! No one of course questioned Roshan on why he chooses to ride his bicycle on a crowded street and not on a more open track or less crowded road.
Deepika Padukone patted herself on the back for always being active and healthy. She posted a video of herself running at Central Park, New York, far away from nosey plebeians. Shobhaa De promptly called her bum ‘cute’ and curved the discussion into simply a different orbit! But the best was yet to come.
The broadcast of the finals of the IPL on the Sunday gone by saw a 120-second long commercial unveiled by the Government of India taking #HumFitTohIndiaFit to a much much higher pedestal. Featured in the ad (with a voice-over all through by Prime Minister Modi) were politicians Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Jayant Sinha, Kiren Rijiju, Dr. Harsh Vardhan and Manoj Tiwari, besides of course Prime Minister Shri Modi. And then there were Bollywood stars and even some TV actors. Tiger Shroff was there doing an amazing gravity-defying side-flip. There was a very cheerful Akshay Kumar rotating a wooden bead hoopla ring. A very shapely Shilpa Shetty put in an appearance too. There was even film director Madhur Bhandarkar working out. But the largest parade was that of cricketers and other sportspersons. Aging Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina are in the commercial. So are KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane. I sort of lost count after identifying Abhinav Bindra, PV Sindhu, the Phogat sisters and Kidambi Shrikanth. There were many others.
The commercial itself was nothing much to write home about. It ended with shots of Mr. Modi deep in yogic meditation. It had all the elements of a communication designed to ignite a movement, and in this case a very laudable movement to make the country fitter and healthier. But I am sure it was lost on no one that the 120-seconds long commercial was basically a soft sell of the Prime Minister and a run-up to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
What I fear is that Minister Rathore’s #HumFitTohIndiaFit challenge is starting to degenerate into the kind of obnoxious stuff that one saw with Swachh Bharat affording everyone and anyone an opportunity for exhibitionism at one level, and political sycophancy at another. More and more fitness buffs, real or imagined, will post doctored videos showing themselves off. The actual agenda of national fitness is most likely to get obfuscated and lost. The #FitnessChallenge will elevate the selfie mania to hunk and svelte-curves videos of celebrities and wannabies. This time of course with some fit and not-so-fit politicos in tow.
My one big quarrel with the #HumFitTohIndiaFit commercial and the various videos in its fold is that almost all of the celebrities are shown to be exercising in plush gyms with expensive equipment all around. Some of the girls are shown lifting weights. The general messaging is elite and up-market. In fact the Health Minister is shown doing his regime under the watchful eyes of a trainer. Very few of the videos are outdoor. Except those showing yoga and surya-namaskar, the rest of them are expensive ways of exercising not really possible and affordable for a large part of the populace. That however is just a personal opinion.
I am keenly watching this space. It is getting heated for sure. It is in the national limelight. It has the backing and blessings of India’s Prime Minister. It has many endorsees and active participants. All visible celebrities. All known names. What remains to be seen is if Minister Rathore’s challenge reaches out to, and nudges, the average Indian out of his inertia and lazyness. To me, sportspersons and actors have no choice but to exercise. It is part of their professional basics. I have discounted the cameos by the Modi ministers too as I suppose they had no choice but to sing from their boss’s hymn sheet. Whether the #FitnessChallenge becomes the kind of health movement that we see in the Western world is where true success lies. Minister Rathore is himself a decorated world-class sportsman. He is the right custodian of this movement. I wish him all the success. But minus the political overtones and the election messaging.
Carol Goyal sees #HumFitTohIndiaFit as a potential winner. She is a big supporter of innovative ideas and uplifting campaigns provided they have their hearts in the right place.